By Joe Benedict
MVM News Network
BURLINGTON — Any department facing a $1.5 million cut in its budget probably is going to have to look at how it provides services.
Janelle Melohn, Crime Victim Assistance Division director, and CVAD Victim Services Support Program Administrator Donna Phillips laid out the rough plan to a room full of concerned residents Tuesday at the Burlington Public Library.
However, some people involved in area women’s shelters found a little hope at the meeting when Phillips said the division had not decided which shelters would be shut down. There had been rumors that the only shelters would be in Iowa City, Davenport and Muscatine.
The women said the money for programs like the shelters would be a competitive process as it always has been. However, the process is going to be a little tougher now.
Those programs, like the shelters in Keokuk and Burlington, will have to show how they can serve the entire region on their respective applications for funds.
Melohn and Phillips said it is important to make sure women don’t lose access to services when they are victims of crimes, but the department wants to go in a different direction.
Melohn said operating the shelters takes a large amount of money. Only about 11 percent of victims use the shelters, but they consume about 50 percent of the funds. Each shelter costs about $400,000 a year to operate.
The department would like to concentrate more on advocate services and finding the victims more permanent homes quickly. They said studies have shown that women can escape the abuse quicker if they get a stable place to live.
The new plan divides the state into six regions. Phillips said a formula is being used to make sure funds are split fairly between regional programs.
While no one wants to see shelters close, Melohn said without making some big changes in the program, programs themselves will start to fail and that would result in a lack of services. So the department wants to focus on what it can do, raising advocate services and concentrating less on brick and mortar shelters.
She said another fear is the Violence Against Women Act will not be reauthorized by Congress. That could mean another loss of half a million dollars for victim services.
Then it was time for questions and comment. It was asked why the division couldn’t ask the state Legislature for the money it is losing with $2 million not being a lot in the Iowa budget.
Melohn said she is asking for money, but so is everyone else. With some projections of a tight state budget due to federal cuts, she didn’t know how likely it was to get more funding from the Legislature.
Some victims also were present. Alyson McCullough has been at the Burlington women’s shelter for about a week. She said it took her a year to find it and it has changed her life so much. She is from Des Moines and kept telling the advocates there she needed to get out of Des Moines.
She told Melohn and Phillips the Burlington facility isn’t a shelter and it has changed her life.
“A year and a half ago I was still crying in my bed,” she said. “It wasn’t until I came to Burlington that I felt like myself again.”
She asked if there was anything they could do to keep the Burlington shelter in operation. She suggested fundraisers and asking the community for help.
Melohn said they could do those things. If the shelter got no funding from CVAD, it could still operate on community funding if that could be secured.
But what they have seen in poor economic times is community support drying up. She said it used to be about 60 percent of funds came from CVAD. What they have seen is that percentage rising and as it does, it serves as a warning sign that the program is in trouble. She said several programs have collapsed.
Phillips said Iowa is going to be one of the innovators for changing this program. They looked at other states and few are making changes.
She said the plan is geared so victims will continue to have timely access to services but sheltering will have to be done in a different way.
Community members can help assist the program by volunteering, donation of money, items, offering free office space for employees to meet with advocates, donating rent or utilities, participate or sponsor program events or collaborate with local domestic violence programs.